The Altered Book – Book Art

It has been too long since our last foray into the world of book art. This morning I thought I’d pop in and check on one of my favourite book artists, Su Blackwell, to see what she has been up to lately. Unsurprisingly, her updated portfolio did not disappoint! So let’s take a closer look at her newer works, and I will introduce some new finds as well.

Su Blackwell’s website, www.sublackwell.co.uk is truly a feast for book-lovers’ eyes. I think what appeals most to me about Su’s work is the intricacy. Not all book art is created equal, and Su’s is a cut above the rest, in my opinion (pun not intended, but enjoyed nevertheless).

Image source: https://www.sublackwell.co.uk/fineartportfolio/ The Book Collector, 2018 by Su Blackwell

Staying in the UK for a moment longer, have you heard of the mysterious book art that was appearing all over Scotland a few years ago? I somehow missed this very interesting news, though it occurred over the course of four years! Beginning in 2011, 10 anonymous book sculptures sprang up in different cultural locations throughout Edinburgh, as ‘a tribute to words.‘ The altered books continued appearing the following year, in honour of Book Week Scotland, with an additional five new sculptures. The photo below is one of the amazing creations that appeared in Scotland in 2012. In a 2015 email interview, the BBC asked the artist why she made the sculptures, and her answer will ring true for bibliophiles everywhere. The works were an “attempt to illustrate the notion that a book is more than just a book – and a library is a special kind of building.”

Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/gallery/2012/nov/30/scotland-secret-book-sculptures-in-pictures in honour of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island

Travelling back across the pond, Doug Beube is a new name for me in the area of altered books, but he has been creating literary art for years. His website, DougBeube.com includes several items from his portfolio, which is not limited to altered books, although books feature prominently in his artwork. Click on the image below to enjoy some truly unique bookish creations.

Image source: https://dougbeube.com/section/485959-Cut-Shortcomings.html Cut Shortcomings and Double-Sided Shortcomings by Doug Beube

There’s something about a book that is transformed from a story or an educational object into a work of art that moves me. In its first iteration, it is purely the words themselves that make the book: the story, or the information recorded on the pages. But when the pages are cut, shaped, or re-arranged into works of art themselves, the book truly undergoes a metamorphosis, becoming something altogether different from its original, intended purpose. Neither form is more valuable or beautiful than the other, but it’s the difference itself that captivates me.

Thank you for visiting! I hope you enjoy these creations as much as I have. πŸ’œ

Carnegie Libraries: Yorkville

Welcome to our fourth Ontario Carnegie Library: the Toronto Public Library’s Yorkville branch. The Toronto Public Library’s (TPL) oldest branch moved into its new Yorkville home in 1907 when it was re-located from rented space in a building nearby1. The Village of Yorkville only became part of the city of Toronto in 1883, but within a year, the Toronto Public Library had opened its first branch, and it was located in Yorkville.1

Toronto Public Library’s Yorkville Branch

As noted in previous Carnegie Library posts, this branch also features several Carnegie characteristics, such as imposing columns and wide front stairs to a single-level structure. It opened to the public on June 13, 1907, and according to the TPL1, cost a whopping $27,328.65

The last Carnegie branches that were built for the TPL (1916) omitted those well-known telltale features, but the Yorkville branch remains a classic example of the earlier Carnegie architectural style.

“TPL’s oldest branches were built when the concept of free public libraries was still new, fought for by the Public Library Movement that saw access to education as an essential antidote to the vices of the city. As a result, these first libraries (Yorkville, Annette Street) were built to imbue confidence in a newly enshrined municipal service – and are well-protected from the vices of the street by stone staircases and Doric columns.”2

Detail of the main entrance

Ten years after the Yorkville branch opened, Carnegie libraries would display “an entirely new style of one-room institutions with vaulted ceilings” that would “better serve a library’s function and better meet the needs of its patrons,” thanks to a much stronger influence of the city’s chief librarian, George H. Locke3.

In 1973 this building made it onto the Toronto Historical Board’s list of Heritage Properties, and while 1994 saw a reduction in service hours, 2010 brought about an increase, and this branch continues to serve the local community for 62 hours every week4 (pandemics notwithstanding).

For more Yorkville history, and some great photos of the branch in its early years, visit the Yorkville Library’s webpage via the TPL. Thank you again for stopping by! πŸ’œ

Sources:
1. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/about-the-library/library-history/carnegie-yorkville.jsp
2. Rotsztain, Daniel. Globe & Mail May 22, 2015 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/then-there-were-100-why-the-toronto-public-librarys-newest-branch-is-the-perfect-modern-library/article24572738/
3. Plummer, Kevin. Torontoist.com, Oct. 25, 2008 https://torontoist.com/2008/10/historicist_andrew_carnegies_toronto_legacy
4. https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/yorkville/
http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/libraries/carnegie.shtml

Kafka on the Shore

And now for something completely different. Every so often I do pick up a book that isn’t a murder mystery, and most recently that was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I saw a post about this author on Instagram, and was drawn to the synopsis of this particular story. Any book that features talking cats and raining fish is worth investigating, I thought. And I’m glad I did!

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I’m almost 20 years late to this party, as Kafka on the Shore was written in 2002, but better late than never. (It was translated into English in 2005, so I guess I’m only 15 years late.) On the front cover of my edition, The New Yorker claims this story is “an insistently metaphysical mind-bender,” but I don’t know that I would completely agree with that statement. There are some moments where one does wonder what on earth is going on, and the bulk of the story is built around the belief in ghosts who are capable of all sorts of things. But, why not? Live a little, I say. And aside from these two areas of flexible rationality, the story is not so metaphysically mind-bending as to be beyond the comprehension of the average person. I’m not one for much philosophizing, and I quite enjoyed this story.

There were some moments in this book that could safely be labelled as ‘explicit sexuality’ and ‘graphic violence and cruelty,’ yet it was not a violent or overly graphic tale. And I quickly found it impossible to put down! I think I would even go so far as to say that this book was a breath of fresh air, so different was it from what I usually read. And different again from the majority of books one finds in the average bookstore. It was gripping, intriguing, interesting, and even funny. I chuckled right out loud many times.

Without going into too much detail, here are a few details to pique your interest: A 15-year old rich boy runs away from home. A truly bizarre event happened in the countryside during World War II that was hushed up. A grown man on social assistance can talk to cats. The runaway boy finds himself covered in blood but with no sign of a victim. A private library and a remote mountain cabin provide solace, and a delightfully quirky young truck driver comes to the rescue.

Murakami is described as one of the world’s best fiction writers, and I’m inclined to agree. If you are looking for something different to sink your teeth into, look no further!

The Gemstone Affair by Ken Turner

It’s summertime again, but beaches and restaurants are closed or have restricted access, and we have been cooped up at home for months. Our attention spans are dwindling, but we still need something to occupy our minds. What’s the solution? The Gemstone Affair by Ken Turner. At 110 pages, this novella (or, ‘noirvella’) is the perfect summer read.

The Gemstone Affair – A Max Goodbrand noirvella

Turner chose the 1940s for the setting of this work. The protagonist is a scotch-drinking gumshoe who is down on his luck, when a mysterious woman appears with a job for him, and a wad of cash he can’t resist. Her request seems straight-forward: to retrieve four gemstones that are rightfully hers, which were smuggled out of Germany in the war.

The situation escalates quickly, and we learn that things are not what they seem. Max awakens to shots through his window, bodies start piling up around him, and the person we know as ‘Mrs. Smith’ makes some startling revelations.

The author stays true to the Dick Tracy-esque tone throughout the story, using words like ‘fellas’ and ‘swindlers,’ and phrases like, “you’ve been double-crossed, doll.” While references to Coca-Cola bottle caps, an Underwood typewriter, and a Walther PPK sidearm are effective ways of transporting us back in time without slowing the pace of the story through lengthy descriptions. Nods to pop culture of the day keep us rooted in the past, as well: Errol Flynn, Lindbergh’s flight to Paris, and the 1932 movie The Mummy, to name a few.

I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s action-packed and atmospheric, full of surprises and witty dialogue, guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. Be sure to read the Afterword for some insights into the inspiration for Max Goodbrand, and a note about the author’s love for this golden age that has captured so many hearts and imaginations. The Gemstone Affair is available from Amazon.ca here, and if you’re ready to kick-start your summer reading, there’s no better way to do it. Enjoy!

Carnegie Libraries: Woodstock

Next stop on our tour of Carnegie libraries in Ontario is the Woodstock Public Library. And what a magnificent one it is!

Woodstock Public Library, built in 1909

I’m ashamed to admit that I had no idea there was such a wealth of history and historic architecture in Woodstock. But there are a great many beautiful and well-maintained buildings in this city, and one of them is the public library. Unlike the other Carnegie libraries we have visited in this blog, the Woodstock Public Library actually began almost a century before its current home was built. According to TourismOxford.ca, a Reading Society was formed in Woodstock in 1835. It was a private group with an annual fee, and it was known as the “Woodstock Subscription Library” by 1836.

Detail of the portico

By 1840, the society had grown to 60 members, and by 1935, there were over 3,300! (WPL – history) In the gap between those years, the Carnegie Foundation provided a grant of $24,000.00, and the Woodstock Public Library opened to the public in 1909. In 1976, it was designated as a historic building.

The imposing entrance showing the characteristic ‘Carnegie stairs’ and ‘Carnegie basement’ that were so often incorporated into these libraries

The WPL has its own Twitter feed, with links to numerous resources on wellness, the promotion of literacy, programming for all ages, and a whole lot more. With all the COVID restrictions in effect lately, this library was closed when I was there, but things are starting to open up again, and we can hope that all our libraries will soon be the thriving community hubs they have always been.

Thanks again for stopping by! Stay tuned for the next installment of our Carnegie Libraries travelogue soon. πŸ’œ

Sources:
WPL History: https://www.mywpl.ca/library-history
History of Woodstock PL: www.tourismoxford.ca/listing/detail/ArticleId/12890/History-of-the-Woodstock-Public-Library.aspx
Woodstock Public Library Twitter: https://twitter.com/WoodstockLib

A bookshop to yourself!

On a recent visit to my in-laws in the Windsor, ON area I thought I would do a quick Google search for local independent booksellers. I found the Biblioasis Bookstore, and took a brief tour of their webpage, sad that it was likely closed. But then, I saw that they are offering 30-minute PRIVATE browsing sessions which you can book through their website. You can even request music to browse to! Naturally, I immediately booked myself a session that afternoon, and kept my eye on the clock as time slowly passed until it was time to get in the car and head over.

Detail of the Biblioasis storefront on Wyandotte St.

They provide very clear instructions and information on their website about what to expect: please wear a mask, but if you don’t have your own, one will be provided. Gloves will also be provided if needed. You can touch any book you like, but if you don’t end up purchasing it, you must replace it on a cart so it can be wiped down and disinfected before it gets put back on the shelf.

The welcoming view upon entering the Biblioasis Bookstore

This bookstore was exactly as I hoped it would be: old hardwood floors, shelves full of interesting books, friendly staff, a bright front window, and fun bookish gifts for every bibliophile (cards, puzzles, etc.). They have the usual assortment of fiction and new releases, but also some really neat local interest books. The super-cool part of discovering this book store is that Biblioasis is *also* an independent publisher! You can check out their press at www.Biblioasis.com.

#shelfie

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know I love a good cozy mystery, so I picked up a couple more during my private browsing session – both to do with bookshops!

I was impressed by what a great solution Biblioasis came up with, to resume the retail experience amid the ongoing economic upheaval caused by COVID-19. Imagine: an entire bookstore to yourself! If that’s not a dream come true, I don’t know what is. Thank you, Biblioasis πŸ’–

#BlackLivesMatter

In response to the tremendous upheaval caused by the death of George Floyd, I have not felt it appropriate to post anything here for the past several days.

Now, in honor of this tragic event, and in the hope that true change comes as a result, I wanted to do a post on Native Son by Richard Wright, which I read several years ago.

Especially relevant today, in this time of renewed civil unrest and loud calls for deep change, this book is a searingly accurate social commentary decades ahead of its time. It was originally published in 1940, but has the feel of a modern novel. The main character is a young black man, who accidentally kills a young white woman, and the story quickly escalates from there. At times disturbingly graphic, the story clearly illustrates the systemic racism that prevailed in 1930s Chicago.

Over the years I have recommended this book many times, and if you haven’t yet read it, now is the time to get a copy. I cannot stress what a gripping and convicting book this is, and I guarantee it will cause a lot of thought and discussion, and possibly a change in outlook.

It is absolutely true that all lives matter, and no single group should be seen as more important than others, but right now, we need to stand behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Racism against those of African decent is in the spotlight today, and it must come to an end now, forever. We must hope that with the victories that will surely come as a result of the protests after George Floyd’s death, racism against all ethnicities will become a thing of the past.

#BlackLivesMatter

It’s #ThrowbackThursday

This is my first #throwbackthursday post! I thought it might be fun to share this old photo of yours truly, because we are all book lovers here, and there’s a beauty of a card catalogue featured tucked into this picture.

Belleville, ON Public Library, 1985

I spent a week visiting my grandparents in Belleville one summer, and they took me to the library! What a time capsule this picture is.. Note what appear to be homemade dolls/stuffed animals behind me πŸ™‚ But what I especially love is that beautiful card catalogue. Little did anyone know how soon it would become obsolete!

Thanks for visiting, and happy #throwbackthursday πŸ’—

Carnegie Libraries: Amherstburg

Picturesque Amherstburg sits along the Detroit river in Southwestern Ontario, just south of Windsor in Essex county. Replete with historic buildings, this quaint little town is a history-lover’s dream, with buildings from the War of 1812, and ties to rum running and the Underground Railroad.

Essex County Library – Amherstburg branch

The Essex County Library branch in Amherstburg is another public library that was funded by Andrew Carnegie. He provided $10,000 in 1911, and the library opened to the public in 1913. In 1987 the building was granted Heritage Designation, and it’s no wonder: the building is made from limestone quarried in the former township of nearby Anderdon, and features many characteristics that are typical of Carnegie libraries. This is another rare example of a library built just after the turn of the last century that has maintained continual, uninterrupted service as a library!

Town of Amherstburg historic plaque for their public library funded by Andrew Carnegie

This beautiful structure was built on the site of a hotel that burned down in 1895. At that time, the town’s library was housed on Dalhousie street, and in 1901, it was moved to a building on Ramsay street before finally settling into the newly constructed location in 1913, where it remains to this day.

Detail of the imposing archway over the main entrance

According to a brief history of the library, as described by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, there was much back-and-forthing between Mr. Carnegie and the Amherstburg Town Clerk before the grant was agreed to. The architects who built the library submitted plans with design elements that Carnegie has previously approved, incorporating “Carnegie Stairs” and a “Carnegie Basement,” which are found in many other of his public libraries.

When the Amherstburg library moved into its new home on Sandwich street in 1913, it had just 6,000 volumes. But, by 1935, “Ontario Library Inspector F. C. Jennings stated in his report that the Amherstburg Library was one of the most complete and up to date in the County.” (https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/oha/details/file?id=420, page 6)

This concludes our second library travelogue. Thank you for traveling with me to Amherstburg! Look for the next Carnegie Libraries installment on BookNotes soon. πŸ’œ

Sources:
http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/libraries/carnegie.shtml
https://essexcounty.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=386befd577814c4f86e041837af7fab5
https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/oha/details/file?id=420
https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/amherstburg-to-mark-librarys-history/wcm/2a7652cf-80ce-4f27-936f-7a8015bd6e9d/
https://www.amherstburg.ca/en/live-and-play/heritage-designations.aspx
https://www.werelate.org/wiki/Place:Anderdon,_Essex,_Ontario,_Canada

What to read when you can’t concentrate

Have you noticed that it’s harder to stay focused these days? I think the stress of self-isolation, working remotely while still attending to your home and domestic responsibilities, and so much time together with the same people is getting to us. It’s safe to say that these are very unusual times, even though states, provinces, and countries are trying to slowly return to normal. It has been an unprecedented, stressful time for everyone.

What if you don’t feel like sitting in front of the TV for another day? But the thought of picking up a book is just too much; it feels overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions that might help.

1. Read some comics.

Calvin & Hobbes comics are always good for a laugh, and they brighten the spirits.

2. Pick up a graphic novel. The stories are just as complex as a regular novel, but with far fewer words (sometimes no words at all!), so they won’t overwhelm.

If you haven’t read a graphic novel before, now is the time to try one! Lots of words, no words, short or long, there’s a graphic novel out there just for you.

3. Why not bust out those old coloured pencils and give adult colouring a try? It might just be the de-stressor you never knew you needed.

Click on the image to buy this book on Amazon. Image courtesy of Amazon.com

I hope you find these ideas helpful. It’s true we are living in strange times, but good can come from this disruption of our busy routines: more (quality?) time with family, more time outside getting healthy fresh air, and maybe a broadening of your bookish horizons.

Until next time, happy reading! πŸ’œ